My Soccer Dream Has Not Been Fulfilled

World Cup Fever! Unquestionably, many people catch it during the event, including many Americans who are otherwise less keen than those far to the South and those across the pond. There are a handful of professional teams in the United States, almost all small children are introduced to the sport, and it has some success in high schools and colleges.

There also are those whose interest in the sport is about the same as mine. Nil. I suspect that is because I never played the sport in my youth. In fact, I didn't know what it was until I was grown. And watching children and grandchildren play is watching a herd of munchkins chasing a slowly rolling ball that is kicked out of bounds more often than at a goal.

I have, nevertheless, had a moment as proponent of the sport.

Around 1980 I was talking to the former Alabama and Dallas Cowboys great Lee Roy Jordan. The subject of his sons came up and I asked if they played football. He told me in Dallas (where he lived, running his lumber company) than any place there was enough room for a football field, the City of Dallas put up soccer nets. At the time we were hearing that soccer was the coming sport in America, something like we are hearing that about lacrosse today.

I was a believer, though.

I dropped by Coach Paul Bryant's office one afternoon (in those days the football offices were not protected like Fort Knox) and found him in. I asked him if he had a moment, which he did.

I told Coach Bryant, who was also director of athletics, about my conversation with Lee Roy.

And then I suggested that a major reason that Alabama football was among the top tier college programs was that George Denny (as in Bryant-Denny Stadium) as president of The University had seen football as something that could benefit the school. That proved to be more successful than even Denny could have imagined, fueling interest, alumni giving, and student applications.

I pointed out that Dr. Denny had hired Wallace Wade and Alabama became a Rose Bowl power. After Wade left, he hired equally successful Frank Thomas, who coached Bryant the player in the 1930s.

My logical conclusion was that Bryant should determine the world's best soccer coach and hire him to build a men's soccer team. (At the time, women's athletics at Alabama was a separate department.) Bama would then be far ahead of the competition as soccer became the next great college sport.

Proving once again that he was smarter than almost everyone else, he said, "I think I'll let the next guy do that."

Sometimes I think the landscape of college soccer might have been different if Bryant had followed my advice. On further reflection, though, I think Alabama trying to be the men's soccer leader would have been a huge failure.

I do remember being present when Bryant and former Birmingham News Sports Editor Alf Van Hoose discussed the prospect of having the Alabama High School Athletic Association do away with track and field as a spring sport and putting in soccer "because it would get boys in better shape for football."

One barrier, of course, is Title IX, which mandates colleges provide equal opportunities for women in athletics as for men. Alabama and most other colleges have NCAA women's soccer. Far fewer have men's soccer other than as a club sport.

World Cup Fever notwithstanding, men's soccer is no more than a minor American college sport.


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